Alterations by Stephanie Scott

Jun. 27th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer

C+

Alterations

by Stephanie Scott
December 6, 2016 · Bloomsbury Spark
RomanceYoung AdultTeen Fiction

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by LibrarianJessi. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best First Book category.

The summary:

If anyone saw the prom boards Amelia Blanco makes on her favorite fashion app, they’d think Ethan Laurenti was her boyfriend. They wouldn’t know that all the plans she’s made for them are just dreams, and that she’s the girl who watches him from the kitchen while her parents cook for his famous family.

When Amelia’s abuelita enrolls her in a month-long fashion internship in NYC, Amelia can’t imagine leaving Miami–and Ethan–for that long. As soon as she gets to New York, however, she finds a bigger world and new possibilities. She meets people her own age who can actually carry on a conversation about stitching and design. Her pin boards become less about prom with Ethan and more about creating her own style. By the time she returns to Miami, Amelia feels like she can accomplish anything, and surprises herself by agreeing to help Ethan’s awkward, Steve-Jobs-wannabe brother, Liam, create his own fashion app.

As Liam and Amelia get closer, Ethan realizes that this newly confident, stylish girl may be the one for him after all . . . even though he has a reality TV star girlfriend he conveniently keeps forgetting about. The “new and improved” Amelia soon finds herself in between two brothers, a whole lot of drama, and choice she never dreamed she’d have to make.

Here is LibrarianJessi's review:

Although I used to mainline teen fiction like there was no tomorrow, I’ve largely taken a break for the last couple of years. This is partly because I spent the last two years reading 300+ adult fiction books while I served on a committee which I lovingly referred to as “My Crazy Ass Reading Committee” but which is properly known as The Reading List Committee. Reading Alterations, I was reminded of the other reason teen fic and I took a break: especially in contemporary teen fiction, I suddenly found myself empathizing with the parents more than the teens, which was shocking and made me feel ancient. I have to admit I suffered from this in Alterations too. I often found myself wanting to smack Amelia upside the head or sit her down for a long talk. Because of this odd tug-of-war between wanting to sink fully into the drama llama-ness of the story and my rational (apparently) adult brain offering distracting advice, my thoughts about the book are fairly split too. So, I’ve decided to resort to every Type A, detail-obsessed librarian’s favorite tool: The Pro/Con List.

Behold:

Things that really worked for me in Alterations:

  • My number one favorite thing about this story was the grandmother/mother/daughter dynamic. Amelia lives with both her abuelita and her mother. Their relationship rings very true with lots of love, expectations, bickering, etc. It’s a complete miracle to have functional, living parents in teen fic, and I really appreciate authors that take the time to create them. Amelia’s relationship with the matriarchs in her life reminded me of Jane the Virgin, the best show on TV right now and the perfect show for every romance reader.
  • Amelia’s passion for fashion (yeah I know, I couldn’t resist) is infectious. All the people in her life who love her support her and help her find the confidence to pursue her dreams. Her coming-of-age journey is quite excellent. And for days after finishing the book, I was plagued by the need to hang with Tim Gunn in Project Runway reruns.
  • The story created a very positive message about finding your people. Amelia, like many of us, feels like a bit of a weirdo. But suddenly, she finds her fellow fashion people – “Isn’t it amazing how we’re all sort of loners in our regular worlds, but we come here and we all seem to fit”. The experience was not unlike what many of us experience here with the SBTB community. It’s magical and one of the most fundamental parts of growing up and learning to love the person you are.
  • As a complete Broadway nerd, I have a slight (read: major) obsession with NYC. Amelia’s trip was an absolute armchair travel delight for me. The city comes alive through her eyes and I was all but drooling to visit again.
  • Liam, Amelia’s very obvious OTP (one true pairing), is exactly my kind of hero. He’s nerdy and adorkable and even though it’s not his thing, he totally gets Amelia’s love of fashion and works really hard to help her find her full potential.

Things that really didn’t work for me in Alterations:

  • While I appreciated the excellent job Scott did creating Amelia’s parentals, the story was lacking in the female friendship department. She did have girlfriends – both old and new – but often developing those relationships was sacrificed for other story elements. Often, the relationships or the friend characters fell a bit flat for me.
  • It took Amelia too damn long to get over Ethan. Every time she went all googly eyed over him, I wanted to smack her. He was obviously a complete asshat and I had absolutely no patience for her obsession with him. Every time I thought she was making some headway getting over him (and noticing the adorableness that is Liam) she would backslide. There were many times I wanted to chunk the book across the room, but I was reading digital and didn’t want to harm my darling Kindle.
  • Because it took her sooooooo long to see past Ethan, we didn’t get nearly enough of the puppy dog eyes and wooing with Liam. My heart hurt for him every time he was on page. He had it so bad and Amelia was just so oblivious. When they finally get to the HEA, I didn’t feel like the romantic groundwork was laid for the two of them and I also felt like Amelia owed him a bit more groveling.

In the end, my struggles with the romantic subplot outweighed my enjoyment of other parts of the story. I would have enjoyed it quite a bit more if the romance wasn’t there at all.

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Posted by Theresa Christine Johnson

You read that right: sqround. Soylent has announced Cafe Vanilla & Cafe Chai as additions to its suite of caffeinated beverages.

Soylent aids consumers in eating nutritious food with minimal effort and planning and also offers an affordable option for those who struggle with food security, making it a bit of a future food. So naturally, they turned to sci-fi imagery for...

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Contemporary Romances Out the Wazoo!

Jun. 27th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

The Bourbon Kings

The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward is $1.99! This book is more of a dysfunctional family saga than a romance, and it was also the inspiration for my first Covers & Cocktails post! Redheadedgirl gave this book a B:

As a novel where there’s a bunch of crazysauce, I appreciated it. I do think the current trend in romance is lacking in crazysauce. There’s a lot that happens!

For generations, the Bradford family has worn the mantle of kings of the bourbon capital of the world. Their sustained wealth has afforded them prestige and privilege—as well as a hard-won division of class on their sprawling estate, Easterly. Upstairs, a dynasty that by all appearances plays by the rules of good fortune and good taste. Downstairs, the staff who work tirelessly to maintain the impeccable Bradford facade. And never the twain shall meet.

For Lizzie King, Easterly’s head gardener, crossing that divide nearly ruined her life. Falling in love with Tulane, the prodigal son of the bourbon dynasty, was nothing that she intended or wanted—and their bitter breakup only served to prove her instincts were right. Now, after two years of staying away, Tulane is finally coming home again, and he is bringing the past with him. No one will be left unmarked: not Tulane’s beautiful and ruthless wife; not his older brother, whose bitterness and bad blood know no bounds; and especially not the ironfisted Bradford patriarch, a man with few morals, fewer scruples, and many, many terrible secrets.

As family tensions—professional and intimately private—ignite, Easterly and all its inhabitants are thrown into the grips of an irrevocable transformation, and only the cunning will survive.

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Make Me

Make Me by Tessa Bailey is 99c! This contemporary romance has come up in a couple Rec Leagues: He’s Not Worthy and He’s Always Loved Her. Reader Katie C. and I talked about this book in line while at RT17. She loved it! (Maybe she can pop into the comments and share her thoughts.) Meanwhile, I was really anticipating this book and felt disappointed by the pacing.

Construction worker Russell Hart has been head-over-work boots for Abby Sullivan since the moment he laid eyes on her. But he knows a classy, uptown virgin like her could never be truly happy with a rough, blue-collar guy like him. If only she’d stop treating him like her personal hero—a role he craves more than oxygen—maybe he could accept it.

With the future of her family’s hedge fund on her shoulders, Abby barely has time to sleep, let alone find love. And her best friend Russell acting like a sexy, overprotective hulk any time their Super Group goes out in public definitely isn’t helping her single status. But after a near-tragedy lands Russell in her bed for the night, Abby’s suddenly fantasizing about what he looks like shirtless. Chest hair and tattoos—who knew?

As Russell struggles to keep Abby at a safe distance, she begins to see through his tough-talking exterior—and acknowledge her own feelings. Now she’s ready to turn the friend-zone into foreplay…and make him lose control.

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Luke

Luke by Barbara Freethy is 99c at Amazon! This is the first book in the 7 Brides for 7 Brothers series, which caught my eye because the movie (of the same name) was part of my childhood. This is a second chance romance. Some readers warn there’s an annoying plot moppet in the romance, but others recommend the book for fans of sweet, second chance stories. Some of the other books in the series are also available for 99c!

Meet the Brannigan brothers—seven sexy brothers who bring the heart and the heat! From bestselling authors Barbara Freethy, Ruth Cardello, Melody Anne, Christie Ridgway, Lynn Raye Harris, Roxanne St. Claire and JoAnn Ross comes a brand new contemporary romance family series: 7 Brides for 7 Brothers. You won’t want to miss a single one!

LUKE – Barbara Freethy

Luke Brannigan lives for the adrenaline rush, which makes his job as a filmmaker of extreme sporting adventures the perfect career choice. He loves to travel the world, risking life and limb to capture the most amazing shot. Some might say he’s running away from something…or someone.

When Luke’s billionaire father Colin Brannigan dies unexpectedly, Luke is shocked to receive title to the mountain lodge where his parents first met. Having been estranged from his father for years, Luke has no idea why his dad picked him to inherit this very personal piece of property…until he realizes the pretty blonde manager is Lizzie Parker, his former college girlfriend.

Luke and Lizzie have an emotional and heartbreaking past, but will they have a future? Will love be Luke’s greatest adventure yet?

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This book is on sale at:

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Bikers and Pearls

Bikers and Pearls by Vicki Wilkerson is 99c! This is a small town contemporary romance with an opposites attract element. Some readers expressed difficulty sympathizing with the heroine, while others loved how the relationship progressed between the hero and heroine. Reviews also mentioned that this is a romance without any explicit sex scenes.

Who said tempting a sweet Southern belle would be easy?

When rebel biker Bullworth Clayton gets tangled up with pastel-and-pearls-clad April Church, sparks fly. Sure, April would clearly rather work with anyone else, but if teaming up with Bull means a successful charity event for a sick little boy they both care about, then so be it.

April is baffled at how drawn she is to the leather-wearing, tattooed Bull—he just doesn’t fit with her simple, safe, country-club life. And as much as the handsomely rugged man tempts her, she still can’t shake the images of the tragic motorcycle accident from her past, which left her scarred and her father broken.

Bull tempts her to don a pair of leather pants and go for a ride with him, while April desperately tries to resist her attraction to the wild side and keep her exploits hidden from her small town. Will they be able to navigate their differences and find a middle road to love?

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30 Botanical Packaging Designs

Jun. 27th, 2017 01:30 pm
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Posted by Natalie Mouradian

Floral and botanical themes are super popular and can be found throughout a myriad of packaging designs. We wanted to gather a few of our favorites that utilize botanical elements in beautiful ways.


1. The Bold Lush Packaging of Corelia

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Posted by Theresa Christine Johnson

2015-08-02 14.49.33-copy.jpg

By: Margaret Andersen

Inspiration for entrepreneurs is all around, but the deep details about how a brand goes from an idea to a physical product or service are fuzzy. We’re breaking it down this week with Holly McWhorter, owner of PLANT Apothecary. In part 2 of a 4-part series, learn about how she got the idea for this line of organic skincare and how she turned into a...

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HaBO: Son Kidnapped on Christmas

Jun. 27th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Amanda

In this HaBO, we’re trying to track down the first romance Reader Esti ever picked up:

I was talking to Bea at the Ripped Bodice about the first romance novel I ever read, and she suggested I contact you because I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the book (to be fair, I was only ten. Someone messed up and put it in the kids section at a book sale and I bought it. It definitely gave me an education, lol.)

Anyway, the story was about a divorced couple whose son was kidnapped around Christmas time. Of course they fall back in love while searching for their son. I believe the kidnapper was the hero’s partner, who wanted the heroine for himself.

I’m pretty sure the cover was blue (I know, how cliche) and that it was they type of books that come out every month, like the Silhouette romances.

Blue cover alert!

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Posted by Elyse

Elyse Watches The Bachelorette with Kraken Rum and Coke with a big rose at the bottomIt’s Monday night, the night when I get drunk on Kraken rum and watch The Bachelorette for your entertainment.

This week we have a two-hour episode on Monday, and a two-hour episode on Tuesday.

Pray for my liver.

Is anyone out there a doctor? Because I’m really going to need a note for work on Wednesday.

Boss: “Elyse, why are you in pajama bottoms and is that a tortilla chip in your hair?”

Me:

A little girl shakes her head and holds up her hands like IDK

Anyway, last week a bunch of guys were jerks, everyone fought with each other, and Rachel broke down crying because of the shittiness of the group. Iggy tattled on everyone. Lee revealed himself to be the missing Malfoy child. Kenny was accused by Lee of being aggressive.

Dean and Peter stood out by not engaging in the bullshit.

We also need to take a moment to talk about Lee’s hair. There’s no justification for his bouffant or the amount of gel that he needs to achieve it. My working theory is that he’s smuggling exotic birds up there.

Lee and his stupid hair.

Anyway, on with the show!

We’re back on Hilton Head Island, SC. Kenny has approached Lee to confront him because Lee told Rachel that Kenny was aggressive toward him.

Now let’s take a moment to call that statement out for what it is: coded racism.

Last week pretty much all of the men were shouting at each other during an epic blow up. No one got physical and there was no indication that anyone would. Multiple people shouted at Lee because Lee is a raging asshole.

Lee only accuses Kenny of being aggressive.

Coincidentally Kenny is a large Black man.

Rewatching clips from last week, it’s apparent that Kenny was never going to get physical with Lee. He was feet away from Lee when they argued, and while voices were raised, both had relaxed body posture.

By accusing Kenny of being aggressive, Lee puts Kenny in an untenable position. If he gets mad at Lee for being a shitbag, he’s an aggressive, potentially dangerous Black man. Same if he vociferously defends himself. Now all Kenny can do is keep his cool while Lee attacks him like the cowardly little rectal pustule he is.

Very calmly, Kenny says to Lee, “You are a disingenuous snake.”

That’s pretty fucking unfair to snakes. Snakes are just eating rodents and keeping their ecosystems sound. Snakes aren’t using all the hair gel.

It’s obvious that Lee is trying to provoke an angry, potentially even violent reaction from Kenny, who refuses to engage.

I expect Rachel will immediately see through all of this

After all that nonsense, Rachel shows up and gives Bryan the group-date rose , which is interesting because I actually forgot that Bryan existed. Which one is he again?

A still shot of Brian looking off to one side.
This is Bryan. Apparently.

The next day Rachel goes on a one-on-one date with Jack, who looks a lot like Bryan, which is confusing me. They take a carriage ride and then shuck and eat fresh oysters. They go dancing and Jack flirts, and it’s painful because there’s no chemistry between them. Rachel is clearly aware of it and doesn’t want to kiss him because she’s “sick.”

Cut back to the hotel. Some of the other dudes tell Lee what a shitty, racist thing calling Kenny aggressive is, and Lee gets suitably butt-hurt because Kenny “played the race card.”

He acts like he has no idea what the connotations of his comments are.

Marcia from the Brady Bunch says Sure Jan with all visible eyerolling sarcasm.

Then we go back to Rachel and Jack having dinner. Jack is trying sooooo hard to impress Rachel and she has this kind of vacant stare going on. He’s talking about how they really connected and Rachel looks like she’s thinking about The Black Panther teaser trailer. Or shampooing her carpet. Or cuddling with her dog, Copper.  Or anything other than spending time with Jack, really.

He is super oblivious to the fact that this woman has totally checked out.

Rachel comments, “Jack says ‘I just want to take you back to Dallas and just lay in bed and talk.’ That didn’t sound…great to me.”

She tells Jack that she doesn’t feel a romantic connection to him and that he won’t be getting a rose.

Jack, who was busy naming their future children, is stunned. I felt a little bad for him but also, pick up on signals dude. She didn’t want to kiss you! By this point in filming the “sick” thing is nonsense. Everyone has the same cold.

Except Lee. Lee has bird flu but only because an African Ringneck Parakeet that I’ve named Mr. Tweeters is living in his hair.

The next night (or same night? It’s all a little fuzzy here) Rachel puts on a black dress that is held together by sequined clips and makes her look like a goddamned goddess. She decides to omit the cocktail party and go straight to The Dreaded Rose Ceremony.

Cut back to the house where Peter, who is actually aware of human beings other than himself, is telling Iggy how the mens’ awful, childish behavior hurt Rachel.

I feel like right now is a good time to admit that I really want Peter to win.

  1. He doesn’t engage in petty bullshit. Every time Lee is starting some shit or Eric is screaming “MY NAME IS IN YOUR MOUTH” Peter is off on his own, presumably working out the blueprints of the dream house he will build Rachel with his goddamn hands.
  2. Rachel’s dog, Copper, loves Peter. Copper spent their whole flight to Palm Springs with his head in Peter’s lap, gazing adoringly at him. Dogs know. They always know.

Also when the WTFery is high, Peter adopts the Jim Halpert “is this real life” look.

Case in point:

Peter stares into the camera like WTF is even going on here

Then it’s time for The Dreaded Rose Ceremony–the ceremony when Chris Harrison gets to drink the blood of fallen Bachelorette contenders, thereby freeing him to walk in daylight.

In a cutaway Adam (the one who had the puppet) says, “I feel like she hasn’t seen the full Adam yet. She’s had a glimpse. She’s had a snack. I want to give her the full kitchen.”

Is The Full Kitchen a sex move I don’t know about? Is it having sex while scouring the sink?

Kenny gets a rose. Peter gets a rose. Adam gets a rose.

Then we’re down to one flower.

Chris Harrison shows up to tell us we’re down to the final rose. THANKS CHRIS!

Clearly at the behest of the producers, Rachel gives the rose to Lee.

I might have thrown up in my mouth a little, but this drinking isn’t great for my GERD.

Iggy is left out. He looks physically ill. The Tickle Monster doesn’t get a rose.

“I gotta get back out there, and look for a girl who appreciates a good set of tickling,” he says.

I don’t know what that means, but it upsets me. It sounds like something that would be scrawled in blood at a crime scene, baffling detectives.

Next they all jet off to Oslo, Norway! They immediately start off with a one-on-one date with Bryan (who I forgot existed again).

Rachel and Bryan repel down a ski jumpThey repel down a 187 foot ski jump. Because that sounds …fun.

Bryan tries to kiss her in midair. I would have been so absolutely panic-stricken at this point that I would have reflexively punched him in the face. Like a full on KO. Don’t fucking touch me when I’m dangling 187 feet in midair.

Over dinner Bryan and Rachel discuss being insecure in high school and college. Bryan tells her that previously he was afraid of commitment in relationships, but he’s matured since then. Which totally explains why he’s looking for marriage on reality TV. Because maturity.

Then he says the words, “I’m falling in love with you.”

EVERYONE TAKE A SHOT.

Despite her “cold” Rachel totally makes out with Bryan. She also gives him a rose.

Back at the hotel Lee is busy drinking the tears of children when the date card arrives.

It’s a group date with…IDK a bunch of the dudes. I’m drunk.

Regardless, Kenny and Lee aren’t in the group date which means they have a two-on-one date later.

Mr. Tweeters makes a brief appearance from Lee’s hair and gingerly accepts a pistachio from Chris Harrison.

For the group date, the dudes and Rachel learn how to play handball. Rachel describes it as a combination of football, basketball and water polo. Minus the water, I guess. It’s not the handball I played in high school gym class which involved hitting a ball with your hand and bouncing it off a wall. It makes about as much sense though and is equally appealing.

This is why I could never be The Bachelorette. You have to do all this physical stuff. My idea of a good group date is everyone read silently in the same room. With snacks. And booze.
Anthony, Josiah, and Will get ready for handball.

Also for reasons that boggle the mind, Dean wears his jock strap OVER his uniform.

We cut back to the hotel where Kenny Facetimes his daughter and my heart melts.

Meanwhile Lee lifts weights, polishes his cowboy boots and puts on his most douchey pair of distressed jeans. They show him reading a book about Oslo and I 100% guarantee a producer had to flip the book right-side up for him.

The two-on-one date card comes for Kenny and Lee, and includes a poem from Chris Harrison. I am not making this up:

Two men,

One rose,

One stays,

One goes.

Yes. That actually happened. I totally believe that Chris wrote it himself too. While cackling. The poem is about murder, but no one has figured it out yet. Chris prays to the Rose God.

Back to the group date. Rachel and Peter have dashed off to the hot tub where they’re gone for “three and a half hours” according to one of the dudes. I’m thinking they may actually have had sex. Just the parts that were filmed looked like they were about seconds from penetration.

Despite that, Will gets the rose. This confuses Peter because THREE AND A HALF HOURS. That’s stamina. He worked hard, okay? He didn’t carb up for that. That was all grit.

The next day it’s the two-on-one date. Lee, Kenny and Rachel take a helicopter ride out to the wilderness. They have drinks by a river. Mr Tweeters calls out to the wild birds of Norway.

Kenny and Rachel go to talk privately. Kenny tells Rachel that he loves spending time with her, but also that he feels like she’d be a great role model for his daughter. For the most part he skirts the bullshit with Lee, and focuses on the relationship he wants with Rachel.

Rachel isn’t at all blind to Kenny’s maturity and sincerity.

Then Kenny and Lee sit awkwardly alone while Rachel is (presumably) filming her cut always. A bird chirps really loudly onscreen and I yell, “Mr. Tweeters!”

My husband looks up from his book. “What?!”

Oh, lord, I’m drunk.

Then Lee and Rachel go talk alone. I’d like to point out that Lee has major There’s Something About Mary hair going on. Lee tells Rachel that Kenny had tried to “violently” pull him out of a van and that it appalled the other contestants, which is a blatant lie. Then he tells Rachel that Kenny gets violent when he drinks. Again, there is no evidence of this.

“I’m never gonna lie to you,” Lee says while lying to Rachel.

Somewhere Darth Vader is thinking that Lee is the son he wished he had.

I’d call Lee a worthless sack of shit, but shit can be used as fertilizer. He’s an oxygen thief. A waste of perfectly good hair gel.

I felt so genuinely bad for Kenny at this point. He’s being attacked, lied about, and there’s so little he can do to defend himself other than hope Rachel sees through Lee’s bullshit.

Lee is sitting down, holding a drink and sneering while Kenny stands in front of him pointing.
Lee and Kenny by the river. Not pictured: Mr. Tweeters

Then we get TO BE CONTINUED with clips implying that Kenny and Lee come to blows. I doubt it — the show has a vested interest in keeping anyone from getting hurt, and it’s bullshit to imply it’s going to lead to violence.

If anything, Mr. Tweeters might finally lose his shit and peck Lee to death, which I’m okay with.

Are you still watching? Who do you think should get the final rose?

 

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Posted by Natalie Mouradian

Take a vacation to the tropics with Pedrito Coco. Pulsum Brands designed the beautiful conceptual packaging for this coconut-flavored liquor.

“Pedrito Coco is a coconut-flavored liquor from Ecuador. Pedrito is known for its cheap and poor-quality products, but this liquor makes its path into every party; people drink it just for fun....

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These Chips Are Made From Crickets

Jun. 27th, 2017 12:00 pm
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Posted by Natalie Mouradian

Cricket chips anyone? Arbiter Creative designed the packaging for Chirps, a new line of edible insects.

"Yes, these chips are made from crickets. Edible insects are the future of food in 80% of countries around the world. The cricket chips with a quirky name, Chirps, are the pioneers of the industry and asked for an exciting brand and...

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Posted by Natalie Mouradian

9NINE has unveiled a new identity and packaging for their range of healthy snacks with the help of leading strategic brand packaging design agency BrandOpus.

Originally named ‘9Bar’, the brand needed to elevate itself from a single product format to a brand that can offer a wider portfolio of products to a more mainstream audience.

Through the re-design, we defined...

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Posted by Natalie Mouradian

Hired Guns Creative has come out with the gorgeous geometric designs for Whitetooth Brewing Company’s High Gravity series of brews.

"For the Whitetooth Brewing Company‘s High Gravity series, a high-end lineup of adventurous seasonal beers, we were tasked with creating a new look with the right tone – distinct from the core lineup, while playing to the strength of the...

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Posted by Natalie Mouradian

Herman Awuku designed this beautiful conceptual gin packaging that takes inspiration from Norwegian history.

"Hafrsjord Gin is a liquor brand based on the legend of the battle of Hafrsfjord, in Stavanger, Norway. Around year 827 this famous viking battle is believed to have produced the first king of Norway, King Harald I, also known as...

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Posted by Elyse

C+

The Day of the Duchess

by Sarah MacLean
June 27, 2017 · Avon
RomanceContemporary RomanceYoung Adult

For those following Sarah MacLean’s Scandal and Scoundrel series, The Day of the Duchess is finally Seraphina and Malcolm, Duke of Haven’s, story. Malcolm was the one who got knocked ass-over-teakettle into a fish pond in The Rogue Not Taken  and launched the whole series with his soggy duke-pants.

Now, you don’t need to read the other books to read this one, but I do think the series works really well in order. That said, this is also the weakest book.

I was really excited for this story which promised to be a super angsty reconciliation story–which it is–but I found that I could never forgive the hero. Even though The Day of the Duchess is really just a prolonged grovel by Malcolm (and he needs to grovel, ya’ll) I still  didn’t like him at the end.

Weirdly, despite not liking the hero, I still liked the book. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that Seraphina is amazing and badass, and so are her sisters. They spend a lot of time together in this novel, and they have no fucks to give. They love each other and support each other and will shove Malcolm in as many fish ponds as needed to make Seraphina feel better.

Also there was this line:

“Perhaps not. But perhaps you will. And when you are, I shall be here.” [Malcolm] said it as though he had nothing to do but languish here, in his underwater lair, waiting for her to wander in and ask him to make love to her.

I NEED THAT AQUAMAN FANFIC RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.

Beads of water fly of Jason Momoa's windswept hair.

Anyway, the book opens with the return of Seraphina, the-up-till-now missing Duchess of Haven. Seraphina is the oldest of the Talbot sisters aka The Dangerous Daughters aka The Soiled S’s. Her father, a wealthy industrialist, won his earldom at cards with Prinny (like you do) and so when Sera and her sisters had their debut, it gave everyone in the ton something to turn their noses up at.

Sera and Malcolm met at a ball and it was basically lust at first sight. Malcolm courted her–kind of. Like they could meet in secret but he wasn’t going to visit her family or act like he would with a “respectable” lady. Afraid that if Malcolm didn’t marry her, her reputation and her sisters’ (and their marriage prospects) would be in tatters, Seraphina traps him into marrying her by sleeping with him (which was his idea) and then getting caught (which was her mom’s).

For the record, he was going to marry her anyways, but he was being a tool about it.

So after they’re married, Malcolm is all asshurt because he thinks she trapped him for his title (despite the fact that he was totes willing to ruin her before proposing). They kind of live apart, but then he finds out she’s pregnant and he’s mad that she didn’t tell him she got pregnant (WHY SHOULD SHE? YOU’RE ACTING LIKE A TOTAL DOUCHENOZZLE) so he does the logical thing and…

Click for spoilers!
has sex with another woman. But just the once. Like that makes it better.

Then their child dies during childbirth, Seraphina almost does, too, and the doctor declares her barren.

So she figures, fuck this noise, takes her money and runs away.

It’s a lot of prologue, I know.

The book opens three years later. Seraphina is back, and she wants a goddamn divorce. Malcolm, having three years to get over his hurt feelings, realizes he loves her and wants her back. He agrees to divorce her if she comes to his estate to help him pick out his next duchess (cuz that’s not fucked up) which is really a ploy to woo her. Seraphina shows up with all her sisters and one pissed off cat as backup.

I never forgave Malcolm. I never really liked him because it was really hard to come back from all the shitty things he did. MacLean tries hard to redeem him, making it clear that he wasn’t sure of Seraphina’s intentions and that he felt betrayed by her actions. The problem is, his actions were super shitty, and having hurt feelings isn’t an excuse to behave horribly. Welcome to adulthood dude. You gotta own your shit.

That said, I found myself compulsively reading this book. I loved Seraphina. LOVED HER.

This is from one of her first meetings with Haven, before everything went to shit:

“You called me ‘my lord,’ It’s ‘Your Grace.'”

She smirked. “How did you know how thoroughly women adore being corrected by men? And over forms of address, especially. It’s a great wonder that none of us have ever fallen in love with you.” She dropped a little curtsey, the movement making him feel like a horse’s ass. “Farewell gentlemen.”

Cheers to you, madam.

And after everything goes to shit:

“You stood in the house where we might have built a home, our wedding breakfast barely over, and you told me to leave you.”

When he opened his mouth to reply, she found she was not through.

“And do you know the great irony of it? The whole world thinks you ruined me before you married me, when the truth is I was not ruined until after the fact. You ruined my hopes. My dreams. My future. You ruined my life. And I’ve had enough of that. I am here for one reason only, Your Grace. I want my life back. The one you stole.”

Tyra Banks says "Fierce!"

I want to drink with Seraphina. I want her to hang out and come to book club and be my new friend.

Malcolm acknowledges that he’s been a douchebag, but like a true romance hero, rather than offer her a sincere apology making it clear he understands what he did wrong, he manufactures a scenario in which he can win her back. It includes the underwater apology cave he built.

I mean, underwater apology caves are the shit, and this one has stained glass and everything, but I’d take a Hallmark card and some honest conversation over that.

Unless Jason Momoa is in the cave. Then the cave wins.

“Go away. I’m having Jason time.”

Jason Momoa is scratching his tattoo and his tongue is doing a thing and I cant even

Grand gestures aside, I couldn’t forgive Malcolm. I couldn’t forgive him for

Click for spoilers!
his infidelity, for not being there when Seraphina was almost DYING IN CHILDBIRTH, for courting her in such a shitbag way.

It was too much to come back from.

Which makes grading this book hard.

As a romance, it doesn’t really work if I didn’t feel like the hero deserved the heroine.

As a book about a woman who has come to burn the fields and salt the earth, and her sisters are there to back her up, it totally worked. I mean, I loved this part. The sisters are all crammed in a carriage, heading to Haven’s estate to wreak havoc, one of them gets carriage-sick, and there’s a pissed off cat who doesn’t appreciate being stuffed in a basket:

“Does Haven like cats?”

[Seraphina] looked to Sesily, already coming to the edge of her seat, Brummell in arms, as though she was prepared to do battle. Sesily was often first into the fray, even when she was green at the gills. “I don’t know. But I doubt it.”

“Excellent,” she said.

Haven opened the door, and Sesily flew from the carriage, thrusting the panicked cat into his arms. “Hold this!”

Surprisingly, he did, somehow controlling his own shock as failed to control the animal, which immediately went wild, hissing and clawing and flailing to be free.

All while Sesily cast up her accounts upon the duke’s perfectly polished boots.

Sera’s hand flew to her mouth, as though she could capture her astonished gasp. As though she could hide the pleasure that edged though it. She couldn’t.

His head snapped up at the sound, and he met her eyes, at once furious and shocked beyond words. Sera lowered her hand, revealed her grin, wide with the realization that everything had, in fact, gone pear-shaped.

For him.

Ah sisterhood. Sometimes it means throwing up on somebody who desperately needs to be barfed on.

If you really like a good grovel, this book might be your catnip. As much as I loved Sera and her sisters, I just couldn’t buy the reconciliation.

I am, however, super excited for Sesily to get her own story…and I’m off to read some Aquaman fanfic.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

B+

Hot in Hellcat Canyon

by Julie Anne Long
May 31, 2016 · Avon
RomanceHistorical: European

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Crystal Anne with an E. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.

The summary:

A broken truck, a broken career, and a breakup heard around the world land superstar John Tennessee McCord in Hellcat Canyon. Legend has it that hearts come in two colors there: gold or black. And that you can find whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s love . . . or trouble. JT may have found both in waitress Britt Langley.

His looks might cause whiplash and weak knees, but Britt sees past JT’s rough edge and sexy drawl to a person a lot like her: in need of the kind of comfort best given hot and quick, with clothes off and the lights out.

Her wit is sharp but her eyes and heart—not to mention the rest of her—are soft, and JT is falling hard. But Britt has a secret as dark as the hills, and JT’s past is poised to invade their present. It’s up to the people of Hellcat Canyon to help make sure their future includes a happily ever after.

Here is Crystal Anne with an E's review:

First, let us all enjoy the Post-It notes that I jotted down thoughts on. It was a library book, so no notes in the margins.

I’m not getting hunted down for a librarian for nobody.

Post-Its with a bunch of notes

So I am familiar with the fact that this website loves them some Julie Anne Long, and their effusive love for her has actually caused me to one-click at least two Pennyroyal Green books.

That doesn’t mean I have actually read them yet. #failureasafunctionaladult

That familiarity means that I am aware that she has a reputation for writing really good small town. However, when the Pennyroyal Green series and its attendant corsetry came to an end, she went for contemporaries. Still with the small town, though. What I came to find out is that yes, she does good small town.

So let’s meet our lucky couple, shall we? First we have Britt Langley, a pretty blonde that both waitresses at the local watering hole and works in real estate. She’s very nice, has justifiable pride in a well-developed vocabulary, and has what is literally a pathological impulse to rescue neglected plants. Trigger warning: she also has a history of abuse that has left her both gun-shy in the extreme and she is just now starting to let herself get back into things that she loved and made her happy.

Then we have John Tennessee McCord, who goes by J.T., because that is one hell of a moniker. He is Southern, an actor who is currently on a bit of a career downswing, but he can see a possible upswing in the offing. He’s often funny, absently flirtatious (it’s pretty much second nature to him), got a black belt in his free time (like you do), says some breathtakingly stupid things during the course of the book, and has a grey streak in his hair, because someone thought of me specifically and wanted me to be happy (#silver fox #cometoButthead).

Basically, I spent the whole book picturing Timothy Olyphant’s absurdly handsome face. THANK YOU.

Gif of Timothy Olyphant in a henley shirt, jeans, and a Stetson, with the text Shitload of Swagger

There was nothing particularly new about the structure of the story. Dude walks into bar, dude meets hot lady, they both notice that the other is hot, at least one of them is reluctant to bone, they both decide that boning without a commitment is a thing that they will do, they have the best sexytimes ever, sketchy pasts invade their present, they both realize they caught feelings, someone makes a big gesture, and then declarations of love occur. Seriously, this particular sketch has been A LOT of books. That said, this book makes it work, and while not particularly fresh, it has a lot of things going for it that make it a comforting and engaging read.

Timothy Olyphant saying, Sounds like a love story

First, we have the cast of characters that always comes with the small town. We’ve got a gun-toting granny, a big dumb dude, the ladies who run the local hair place and dress shoppe, and the staff of the watering hole consists of a forever-married couple and the requisite taciturn and temperamental cook that has mad burger skills. Oh, and there’s Sequel Bait. That said, it was pretty clear that all of those characters had rich internal lives (that forever-married couple are into some gentle role-playing, and the big dumb dude makes a conscious choice to not remain dumb), and their interest and delight in the love story that was unfolding in front of them was cute. I also enjoyed some of the Hollywood types that descended onto the town, and by that I mean I liked Franco. He made for an interesting foil in the fact that even though he and J.T. are hyper-competitive, it is clear that most of the negativity is on J.T.’s side.

Then we had the conflict. Most of it is interpersonal and driven by misunderstandings on both sides. Which is fine, I don’t always need a knife-wielding maniac to drive conflict. I had several “Use your freaking words!!” moments. Both characters had had experiences that caused them to not be particularly skilled at relationship building. The book probably would have moved a bit faster had at least one of them just tried to be somewhat straightforward. They both also had the capacity to be astoundingly unreasonable (people, amirite?).

Timothy Olyphant in a Stetson and a busted lip saying, Could you be any more vague

I did like them as a couple, though. When not being close-mouthed to a fault, they both genuinely liked each other and tried to do nice things for the other. One of my favorite parts was when they were both hanging out and decided to trade e-readers so they could read what the other had. I also liked that this couple was a bit older than what one often finds. J.T. is forty, and Britt thirty-two. These were already people that had had lives, and experienced both success and failure. It might be my age (I’m 38), but I’m here for a lived-in character (also, get off my lawn).

There were a few things where, well, I had concerns. At least the first two love scenes took place in weirdly unhygienic locales (I’m not kidding, it is exactly what my Post-It note said). Second, the ex-girlfriend is villainous to the point of ridiculousness. Not a lot of complexity, almost no humor. Also, I’m sorry, I refuse to believe that a successful, skilled actress has never heard of the Greek myth of Persephone, nor do I believe that a guy that clearly enjoys reading and learning would have tolerated her for very long.

In all, I enjoyed the book, and will probably seek out more of Long’s work. As I said, I can live with the fact that there was a formula when the writing of the formula is good. Chocolate cake comes from a formula, too, and I am always here for a good piece of cake. Also, any book that makes me picture Timothy Olyphant for 374 pages is going to engender a general fondness.

Nice solid B+

Job of the Week: Melissa & Doug

Jun. 26th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Natalie Mouradian

Imagine working for a company with a mission you can truly believe in, a playful and energetic culture, a talented team of coworkers, and a bright future! Melissa & Doug, the toy company committed to nurturing childhood wonder, is looking for a Structural Packaging Engineer. In this role, you’ll be an essential part of our mission...

Click to read full post... »

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Posted by Amanda

The Soldier’s Scoundrel

The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian is $1.99! This is a gay historical romance with class differences, which readers seemed to really love in terms of the pairing. However, other reader mention having some problems with the book’s pacing. It has a 4-star rating on Goodreads. You can also grab The Lawrence Browne Affair for $1.99!

A scoundrel who lives in the shadows

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London’s slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman’s life-one that doesn’t include sparring with a ne’er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack’s pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they’re together.

Two men only meant for each other

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A Bride in the Bargain

A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist is 79c at Amazon and 99c at other vendors! Gist is a bit of an auto-buy author for some. This is an American historical and Inspirational romance, though there does seem to be some debate on shelving it as “Inspirational” on Goodreads. Readers say that though what little and tame sexual content is in the book, there is plenty of sexual tension. It has a 4.1-star rating on Goodreads.

In 1860s Seattle, a man with a wife could secure himself 640 acres of timberland. But because of his wife’s untimely death, Joe Denton finds himself about to lose half of his claim. Still in mourning, his best solution is to buy one of those Mercer girls arriving from the East. A woman he’ll marry in name but keep around mostly as a cook.

Anna Ivey’s journey west with Asa Mercer’s girls is an escape from the griefs of her past. She’s not supposed to be a bride, though, just a cook for the girls. But when they land, she’s handed to Joe Denton and the two find themselves in a knotty situation. She refuses to wed him and he’s about to lose his land. With only a few months left, can Joe convince this provoking–but beguiling–easterner to be his bride?

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The Highland Duke

The Highland Duke by Amy Jarecki is $1.99! This is the first book in the Lords of the Highlands series, and features some forced proximity and the heroine who heals the hero. Readers loved the blend of action and romance, though some found the plot a little unbelievable. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.

She’ll put her life on the line for him . . .

When Akira Ayres finds the brawny Scot with a musket ball in his thigh, the healer has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to save his life. Even if it means fleeing with him across the Highlands to tend to his wounds while English redcoats are closing in. Though Akira is as fierce and brave as any of her clansmen, even she’s intimidated by the fearsome, brutally handsome Highlander who refuses to reveal his name.

Yet she can never learn his true identity.

Geordie knows if Akira ever discovers he’s the Duke of Gordon, both her life and his will be forfeit in a heartbeat. The only way to keep the lass safe is to ensure she’s by his side day and night. But the longer he’s with her, the harder it becomes to think of letting her go. Despite all their differences, despite the danger-he will face death itself to make her his . . .

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Playing By Her Rules

Playing By Her Rules by Amy Andrews is 99c! This is a sports contemporary romance with a rugby-playing hero and second chance romance. Be warned, the book is a little on the short side, but 99c isn’t a bad price to give it a shot. But many loved the slow burn of the second chance romance between the hero and heroine. This is part of a huge Entangled sale with books priced at 99c!

In this grudge match, the first to score…

When style columnist Matilda Kent accidentally lets slip that she was once involved with the captain of the Sydney Smoke rugby team, she suddenly finds herself elevated to the position she’s always wanted – feature writer. The catch? She’s stuck doing a six-part series on her ex. Still, there’s no way she can turn down a promotion…or the chance to dish the dirt on the guy who so callously broke her heart.

…could win it all!

Tanner Stone wants to be involved in a feature series about as much as he wants to snap an Achilles. But the thought of seeing Tilly again is a bonus—and has him more worked up than he wants to admit. Only he’s not prepared for how different she is – all cool and professional. His Tilly is still in there, though…and he still wants her, now more than ever. All he has to do is charm her into giving him a rematch. And this time, winner takes all!

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Posted by Theresa Christine Johnson

By: Joe Parrish, partner and chief creative officer, The Variable

How many times have you walked into an amazing store, or a sporting event or an amusement park, bought something, and been totally let down once you get home?

I feel like it happens to me all the time. The in-home unboxing never lives up to the experience I just enjoyed. I think that's a real dilemma with...

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